NorthWord volume 1 | number 2 | december 2009 | $9.50
a literary journal of canada’s north
Northern Canada Collective Society for Writers’ Statement of Purpose: To publish and support the work of writers in northern Canada.
call for submissions: Calling All Writers Issue number 3 of NorthWord will be published in Spring of 2010. We are looking for short stories or excerpts from current projects, fiction or nonfiction (3000 words maximum), verse of no more than 50 lines, along with anything surprising, original, evocative or interesting. If it can be published, we’re interested. Your work does not necessarily have to be about the north, but preference will be given to those that are. • • •
The theme for Issue number 3 is twist. The deadline for submissions is March 31, 2010. Please submit to The Editors, firstname.lastname@example.org
northern canada collective society for writers president Jennifer Hemstock treasurer Suzanne McGladdery secretary Linda Black managing editor Blair Hemstock members Elizabeth Abel, Douglas Abel, Patricia Budd, Dawn Farrell, Jane Jacques, Kiran Malik-Khan, Kevin Thornton. e-mail email@example.com web page http://northerncanadacollective.shawwebspace.ca/
David Martin Keltie Paul
Bridge To Nowhere
Winter In Canada
Welcome To Our Home Wings
Journey To The Headwaters Of The Fjord, Spring 1911 | Novel Excerpt
I Think We Stayed A Long Time This Way
Marginalia — a column
The Night I Killed The Roses
second issue editor
North: Our Emotional Landscape
e’ve been delighted by the generous support we’ve received since the publication of the first issue of NorthWord earlier this year.
Our official launch event gathered over fifty people on a rainy evening in September, and by the end of October we were almost sold out of the inaugural print run. A year ago, NorthWord was possibility and vision; today the second issue is in your hands, and we’re already planning the third, and the fourth. When we first gathered together in the fall of 2008 to discuss the idea of starting a literary magazine in the North, we had no idea whether anyone would be interested in writing for us, or whether anyone would want to read the result. Over the past year, we`ve learned about such things as page counts, ISSNs, printing rates, and the regulations for forming a society in Alberta. We`ve also learned that people are interested – deeply interested – in communicating with one another through the printed word. Excellent submissions from all over the province have confirmed our hunch: writers, poets, and artists are eager to share their perceptions of the North and of the world. The Canadian writer Robertson Davies once observed, “Canada is not really a place where you are encouraged to have large spiritual adventures.” And yet the adventures find us nonetheless. NorthWord has been a huge adventure for us, and we`re glad to have you on the journey. I hope you enjoy our second issue.
This Issue: Volume 1, Number 2, December 2009 cover & art Margaret Sonnenberg design, logo, colophon & layout Kathleen Jacques artistic support Robin Smith-Peck editors Blair & Jennifer Hemstock
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
bridge to nowhere
eptember, 2010 Twenty-fifth year of Nazi occupation of North America
A cold night. The last of the autumn insects had fallen, slow and clumsy, from the chilled air, or burrowed deep into trees to go to sleep. The fog could not decide between mist and ice so it simply settled, unmovable, above the rivers and the town. Markov stamped his feet. The streets of Fortress McMurray were deserted. Midnight curfew unrolled itself between the valley walls, sending the few wayward stragglers scurrying home with wool caps and anonymous packages. The curfew used to be nine p.m. but had been extended by the Gauleiter as reward for a compliant population. Markov smiled. He enjoyed the later curfew. Guard shift was excruciating when there was nothing to do but pace the dusty streets and listen to the ravens and watch the kiss of the Athabaska and the Clearwater. Ugly rivers, really. Slow and dull. Brown rivers. Not like the Dneiper. Or the Euphrates. Or the Missouri, all rivers on which he’d guarded this or protected that. And the Athabaska ran north. Markov couldn’t quite get his head around that. Rivers that ran north into a vast lake that drained into an Arctic sea. A large truck rumbled through town on the highway, headed south. Then another. Then another. The refineries around Edmonton were busy. Markov strolled to the end of the wide avenue, pretending he owned the city, the butt of his MP44 bumping against his thigh. His slight build and peasant’s posture contradicted long artist’s fingers and a graceful brow that floated between his wide-set eyes and his cap. He was 22 but felt much older. Age is no longer what it used to be, Markov reflected. Like medieval times, like ancient man. 2
He unwound his scarf, then re-wrapped his face and neck so that his lower face was protected. Shit, he thought, now I can’t smoke. Another pair of trucks rumbled over the bridge and screamed down the highway. Markov did not envy the truck drivers. The trucks were prime targets for partisans trying to disrupt oil production. By the time a rescue unit could respond to an attack, the damage was already done. Mines. Rockets. Automatic weapons. Sometimes there was no report at all. A patrol would round a curve on LXIII and come upon the smoking blackened remnants of a cargo carrier or a bitumite tank, the partisans long since melted away. Another gust of wind blew down the Athabaska valley, making Markov’s eyes water. His eyes were grey, like his grandmother’s. Grey like the sky, the fortress, life. Fire appeared in the distance. One, three, ten sprouts of flame, floating bodiless in the wilderness half-night: the factory stacks of the bitumite mines venting their gases into the air. The flames, to Markov, were marvellous fireflies, wavering in orange worship to a forest that never ends. Gregor pulled the radio from his belt and phoned his sentry partner. “Markov, check.” The tall, bony Gregor, half-Scottish, half-Latvian, showed his unlikely pedigree with a constant discomfort in his own skin. Nothing ever seemed to fit him. He forever stumbled over his size 14 boots. No one could predict Gregor’s expression. “Markov, check.” The radio crackled. “Check my ass.” “Someone ought to,” said Gregor, “it’s dirty enough.” His eyes followed a scrap of newspaper that blew along the fringes of the wind. Volkischer Beobachter. Its headline screamed: victory in tierra del fuego! last bastion of american resistance surrenders. “North end of avenue empty,” said the radio. “All the Murryites have scurried home like good
little lemmings. What’s happening down there?” “Only the wind,” said Gregor. “Empty streets. Empty buildings. A ghost town.” “Lots of traffic on the highway tonight,” crackled Markov. “Oily tar is big business.” Gregor stared at the too-black hills across the river. “Are we not the throne of petroleum for the entire Reich? Baku and Ploesti have been drained. Texas is not yet rebuilt. Arabia has been on fire for thirty years. Now is the Twenty-First Century, comrade. The province of Albrecht is the peach in the Fuhrer’s cobbler.” Once known as Alberta, the Reich re-christened this region Albrecht in 1990, one of so many changes on so many maps as Nazi conquest smouldered across the entire Western Hemisphere. New York was now New Berlin. The Champs Elysee was Hermann Goering Platz. Cuba was Himmlerland. All the original Fascist mastodons ensured themselves a slice of history in other people’s real estate. “It makes me nervous,” said Markov. “Why?” “If we are the center of oil production, then the McMurray garrison is a prime target.” “Target?” “Partisans. The resistance.” Gregor scowled. No matter how many they gassed or hung from lampposts or slaughtered with drones, the partisans refused to surrender. It was one peculiarity of Canada Gregor detested— the enemy had always somewhere farther north to retreat. “Illiterate aboriginals starving in the woods,” Gregor smiled. “Worry not about these so-called partisans.” “If you say so,” the radio crackled. “Markov out.” Two thousand meters away the rifle had already been fired, its trigger pulled by the callused finger of a Dené partisan Captain named Gabriel, who was impressed by the night vision scope made in Sweden.
“I say so. Gregor out.” As Gregor plugged the two-way radio back into his belt the high-explosive bullet struck his temple. His head exploded. A crescent pattern of blood and brain fanned across the street like graffiti. One fragment of orbital bone flew over seventeen meters. A few tenants in nearby apartments heard Gregor’s body slump to the asphalt. They peeked through their drapes from lightless rooms. Some of them wept in terror, wringing their hands, no longer able to sleep. They knew there would be reprisals. The night wore on. Trucks continued to roll. At one point, around three a.m., Markov fell asleep against the guardrail and dreamt of Russia. He was Russian but had never been there. Markov had been born in a refugee camp in southern Alaska, very near the spot where the Japanese Army and the German Army finally met in 1980. He awoke with a start, deep night pressing down over the hills and the rivers and the mud. The dream of Russia lingered. Markov recalled his Kampfgruppe 7 Corporal’s exam, all history and mythology and indoctrination. It had taken the Wehrmacht fifty-four campaigns to conquer the world’s largest country, until finally, in 1969, the Soviet Union was compressed into a raging nugget of Hell on the tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Markov sighed and rubbed his eyes. In the Fuhrer’s new Museum of Lost Races the Communists were well represented, along with the Jews, the Poles, the Chinese and the Negroes. A quiet voice stirred in Markov’s head. They may have wiped out the Soviet Union, said the voice, but they will never conquer Russia. The wind had died. Even the truck traffic disappeared. Markov felt utterly alone, standing near the cold orange lights of the bridges. He decided to go home. Colonel Gerhard Hube awoke every morning at 4 A.M., donned his housecoat and slippers, and volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
shuffled into his private map room. Usually, his aging pincer Donnie came with him but not today. Donnie remained curled in his basket. Feeling old today, Hube mused. That makes two of us. The hard lights of the map room made the Colonel wince. He slid first to the map of North America. Then Albrecht. Then a detailed local map of Fortress McMurray. A red marker sat 100 km down lxiii, headed north. The marker represented three huge nitrogen processors that would triple the production of crude from oily tar. Their transport was ultra-top secret. He was the only officer in Fortress McMurray who knew the shipment was coming. Even the usual air umbrella had been ordered to stand down lest it tip off the partisans to something big. The red marker would pass over the Athabaska bridges at dawn and reach the plant sites by noon. Colonel Hube looked up and smiled. Donnie was in the doorway, yawning. “So loyal you are. Such a wonderful dog. Let’s go back to bed for another hour.” The pincer wagged his tail and chuffed, quite delighted.
The first strains of faintest blue coloured the sky to the east when Markov reached his billet— a brick worker’s residence that housed himself and six other soldiers, all of whom were away in the field. He stumbled bleary-eyed across the grass, Stravinsky’s “Holy Spring” twirling ominously inside his head. A multitude of wilted dandelions bowed to his presence as he passed. At the rear entrance, concrete steps descended down an open stairwell to a plain door of wood and glass. Markov paused at the top and gaped. There was a girl, tall and thin, curled in a ball at the bottom, sleeping like a cat in the dawn. Markov nudged her with his foot. Instantly, the girl’s eyes sprang open. Here brows were thick. Her lips were full and pale. Her nutmeg hair a mattress
for a slender face that hovered half-way between pretty and beautiful. Those minutely slanted eyes, thought Markov. Those high cheekbones. That skin. This girl is Russian. She gazed at him, completely unafraid. Then rose to one elbow and stretched. “Preev yet.” Hi. Markov couldn’t help but smile. Bold, this one. “Lahd na,” he replied. Ok. She grinned back at him. That smile, that language, it made Markov desperately homesick for a place he had never been. The sky brightened another degree. The scent of boiling cabbage and grilled rabbit wafted from somewhere in the neighbourhood. Markov removed his field cap and scarf, set aside the machine-pistol and opened the door to his lodging. “Sasha,” said the girl, rising and offering her hand. She smelled of grass and nighttime. “Pavel,” replied the soldier. He shook her hand, then took her into his kitchen and made coffee. The convoy of elephantine trailers moved toward the Athabaska bridges at 20 km/h, precisely on time. The truck drivers were Rumanians but the planners were German and the Germans were, if anything, a time-minded people. At the plant sites north of Fortress McMurray the engineers opened champagne. Once the new pieces were installed, production would skyrocket. The Fuhrer would be so delighted! They drank the bubbly from little glasses and watched the procession of slaves in grey pajamas shuffle from the labour camps through the gates to work. “Something’s up.” Markov stared through the grimy basement window. Flowered clover pressed against the glass, in which a crack rose and fell like a line in a stock market chart. Beyond lay a picturesque view of the Thickwood Hills, and the bridges. Markov returned to the table, returned to watching Sasha drink her coffee. Weariness pressed in against his eyes, it made his belly flutter, but he
couldn’t think of sleep. Who was this girl? Where had she come from? He didn’t care. She was Russian. She was Russia. She was home. Markov rose, bent before Sasha and kissed her full on the mouth. She kissed him back, as he knew she would, her mouth wide open, her sweet coffee-flavoured tongue finding his. She was paradise. Heaven! Markov felt as if he were floating. Sasha must have been excited, too, because she beat her foot on the floor three times. “Fuck the Germans,” Markov snuffled, kissing her shoulders, her neck. “Fuck the Nazis. Fuck the Reich. Fuck all this oily tar.” “Da,” the girl breathed. “Da zav tra. Da zav tra.” Thank you. Thank you. Sasha broke their embrace, then, and stepped back. Her beautiful face had become a grimace. A mask. “Why are you crying, Sasha?” Markov moved toward her but paused. There was another scent in the room, beyond the passion and the coffee. Sweat. Earth. Men. The garrotte wire slipped around his neck and burned into his trachea. Markov felt himself tipping backwards. The wire dug deeper. He couldn’t breathe! Oh, Jesus, it hurt. But the soldier did not struggle. Only stared, his eyes bulging ever bigger. Stared at the girl, the Russian girl, counting her tears. The room wavered as Markov touched the floor. The fire around his neck began to subside. The dream of cool soft snow began again. The partisans worked fast. They had only sixty seconds. All three trailers were on the bridge together, a clumsy tactical mistake on the part of the enemy. The partisan Captain named Gabriel set up the tripod, nimble fingers a blur. Two other Cree men set up the rocket. A fourth man, a Blackfoot, watched the door. “Sasha, I know that was hard.”
She wiped her eyes and glared. “Kiss my ass.” Then disappeared into the tunnel the partisans had been digging for five months, ever since a mole in the Ministry of Energy informed them the upgraders were coming. “This was the only way, girl!” Gabriel shouted. “This basement is the only spot we can firethe rocket.” “Ten seconds,” said one Cree man. His partner smashed out the basement window with a broom. “Target acquired. The ignition will set the house on fire.” “We’ll be long gone,” said Gabriel. The others ran for the tunnel. Gabriel stole one more venomous look toward the bridge where three massive trailers sat, carrying loads as large as dinosaurs. Then he ran, too. Pavel Markov opened his eyes. He was at the edge of a field, beyond which lay a village and a small wood. Smoke rose from chimneys. A gold onion dome floated above pretty poplars. He touched one finger to his throat, trying to recapture some elusive memory, but it was gone. He began to walk. The earth of the field was soft but not yet mud, and smelled rich. Dried stalks of harvested pumpkins crunched beneath his boots. On the path, two men were chopping firewood. One of them was Gregor. He looked up and waved. Pavel Markov emerged into the village and sighed. Peasant huts with white-washed faces sat politely behind crooked fences. A pair of dogs sniffed and roamed then sniffed some more. A concrete worker’s tower rose under construction at the end of a straight paved avenue. Across the river, bathed in mist, floated Fortress McMurray, ethereal and only half-real. Did I once live there? Markov wondered. Then the fog closed in and McMurray faded away with the elusive splendour of Brigadoon.
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
intersection David Sabine
want my Toyota and sunroof. I want my Calvin Klein, my Hugo Boss, and my Adidas.
I want my Mac, my Google, and my stock ticker. I want my Banana Republic; actually, I want all of them. I want Shell and Esso and while I refuel I want my espresso and Red Bull. I want Brad and Angelina and Jennifer on the covers of every magazine and I want all my friends to use the “Which Michael Jackson Song Are You?” Facebook app. You see, I want to really know my friends. I want to know what Tom Cruise thinks about Darfur and I want all the troops to come home from Afghanistan. I want my freedom, my independence, my identity—and yours—but most especially I want a bigger truck with bigger tires with bigger spirit. I want my McMansion and exercise machines and take-out and 20% more. I want to drink all my water from little plastic bottles. I want civilization and I will import it all if I have to. But this morning there was a coyote running scared in the intersection. I was driving to the office in my Toyota as always and there it was just as I rounded the corner at the bottom of Confed-
eration. It was obviously lost and had wandered from its forest to find itself in the middle of a fourway, six-lane, urban intersection with a thousand trucks. All these trucks imported into the midst of Boreal forest and could not the coyote have the sense to stay away? When there are no collisions or obstacles, it takes just a minute to drive through that intersection. Today, the obstacle was a fish out of water. A coyote ambushed by self-absorbed (in)humanity. I was tense but successfully manned the brakes and steering wheel and avoided all the other bumpers while I watched through windows and mirrors to see the coyote dodge in and around vehicles—all the rubber-necking and lights blinking but otherwise irrelevant. The coyote was trapped between boulevards and traffic. The intersection—an asphalt octopus. Everywhere the coyote ran it would see another tentacle and a thousand lights. Panic. Run. Stop. Turn. Run. Circle. Stop. Run. Panic. In moments I had merged into the southbound lane of Sakitawa Trail and the coyote was just a memory. I want to know if it died that day.
winter in canada
welcome to our home
I thought I knew Canadian winter.
Four leaning spruce mark each corner. North-east and south-west walls consist of conifer. A cardboard sign tacked on a jack pine: ‘Welcome to our home’
In 28 years had seen yearly blizzards, wind-chill warnings, hoarfrost, not to mention one infamous ice storm. But then I felt my eyeballs freeze and ache at -50 Celsius. At that temperature exposed skin gets bitten in minutes. Car exhaust drifts like lost mist or fallen wisps of clouds.
We boil the river’s water, or melt snow In the winter, even when it’s thirty below. We’ll make you tea, share our coffee. To help pass time, keep our wits, The fire stays lit in a make-shift pit. Minus thirty? That’s no problem If you have a partner. You can share some Body heat between the sheets. A cardboard sign tacked on a jack pine: ‘Welcome to our home’
The white cold sun burns the retinas— too distant and short-lived to make any difference. Welcome to the True North Strong and Free…zing.
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
hen the drunk in the park told me that the moon was his mother, I knew what he meant. It was a night
when the clouds were thick but the moon was bright and full, its light drifting through the misty skies. The clouds seemed to catch and hold on to the moonlight, so that the moon was surrounded in this brilliant blue halo, as though to crown her queen of the night. The drunk stared up at her, his beloved mother, and sang a song, which to my surprise was pleasant and good. In the summer when I was six, my father let my brothers and me camp out under the backyard stars. Only my mother knew how afraid of the dark I really was. Though initially eager to display my big-ness, I felt my resolve slipping away as the sun began to set. As my two older brothers told each other ghost stories, I sat in the bathroom crying- until my mother came and picked me up. She carried me outside to the porch, and told me the stories behind each of the heavenly lights — of Orion and Cassiopeia, of the man on the moon and the Northern Lights. Within the hour, I had become so distracted counting each of the little lights there in the darkness that I hadn’t even noticed my mother go back inside, and I fell asleep.
Keltie Paul When I was fifteen, my father’s union entered its third month of a losing-battle strike, and our family entered its third month without a steady income. As money around the house evaporated, I was afraid. I was afraid the world I had always thought of as inherently good had betrayed me. My mother persevered. She would drive me from school to soccer practice, dropping off resumes en route, earning pittances at various cafes and department stores. Somehow in the midst of all that, she also made special time for her four sons, their study sessions, anxieties and broken hearts. In the morning she would bring coffee to the men on the picket line, urging them on—‘If we give up hope, we give up the best thing we have in the first place’. It is five years later. I throw on my jacket and let my feet wander by the park. I look up at the starless sky- the clouds that shut out every other light in the sky can only make the full moon seem evenmore luminous and glorious than ever. There is no man on this moon; but rather, Guadalupe, shining and smiling down, singing peace as a lullaby to her wandering children. A drunk appears and sings a song. To my surprise it is pleasant and good. The moon is his mother. “Yes.” I smiled. “I understand.”
hen I was fourteen, I thought my parents were weird. When I turned
40, I still thought my parents were weird. They refused to conform, settle for, tolerate, or condone, often tilting proverbial lances at whatever injustices they figured they could thwart, even if the cause seemed goliath, unwinnable or involved politicians. The two of them, joined at the hip by five decades of marriage and five strong-willed daughters, disappeared in late January, 2006. Their bodies, or parts of them, were picked up on the TransCanada. No warning, no goodbye, no viewing. My parents’ ancestors benefited from the funerary rites and normal bereavement by dying ripe and ancient in their beds with loved ones hovering and cheerfully whispering about long, full lives. Not mine. Too weird. A cold black, infinite hole swallowed me, ending only with my body smacking solidly on the kitchen floor. It seemed quite comfortable there. I was the expert in helping other people…those trampled souls whose lives were shredded by traumatic loss. Wasn’t going to happen to me… genetics and family mythology attributing the avoidance of arrows, bullets, and bombs through shared luck and willingness of spirit were on my
side. We don’t die that way; we just have dangerous adventures. I was now part of the ranks of the lost. And the worst was…I knew what I was in for. Trauma cooties. It felt like I had the plague. People were petrified; avoided me in fear of my tears, and self-protected in fear of possible transmission, as if family tragedy was a communicable disease. I got lost; in parking lots, malls and parks. I lost time; hours, days, weeks. I lost my keys, laundry soap, sense of direction, and the foundations of my identity. Defense mechanisms seemed like a waste of concentration, so I stopped using them. Months later, I still couldn’t find where I’d left my socks, the shredded wheat, or my long-term memory. My husband became more alarmed as I careened in and out of rational conversation, and he called a traditional healer. I was invited into a sweat lodge, where I experienced the impossible, the unreal and “the cannot be, but yet is”. I didn’t find a miracle cure, but I did learn that I could still feel wonder, hope, and maybe even joy. Life is still hard. However, there are silent times when I remember that once, an eagle hovered over me, spoke softly, and wiped my tears with his wings.
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
journey to the headwaters of the fjord, spring 1911 | Novel Excerpt
O Ken Haigh
ver the next few days, the Inuit families left one by one, abandoning the small circle of snow houses surrounding the tiny trading post at the mouth of the fjord. Fair spring weather dictated the shift. Some left seeking caribou inland; others headed out onto Davis Strait, searching for widening leads in the pack ice where seals could be found bathing in the constant warmth of the sun. Only Ashevak, Kooyoo, and Saittuq remained. Saittuq was hostile to Ross Sinclair, the owner of the trading post, and radiated an aura of menace. It was impossible to avoid his presence. Most evenings, Saittuq stayed clear of Ross’s house, but sometimes he would enter uninvited and slouch in a corner, glowering silently. “I don’t like it,” said Arnaq, “his eyes follow me everywhere.” Ross was uncomfortable too, but he did not know how to respond. Saittuq had not done anything that required a response, not yet. They circled each other warily, like two bull caribou. Arnaq was nearing the end of her confinement and growing cranky. One night she complained, “I’m tired of meat from cans, Ross. I want fresh meat. If you were a man, you would get me some caribou.” Ross was stung by this, and the brief flicker of a smile that crossed Saittuq’s face did not escape his notice. “Perhaps I shall,” he said with feigned indifference, “if I feel like it.” Later, Ross approached Ashevak with his problem. “Where can I find caribou?” Ashevak looked troubled. “If you travel to the end of the fjord, you will find a line of Inukshuk 10
that lead to the hunting grounds. There may be caribou there at this time of year, but you should not go alone, Ross. You should have a woman to show you the way, to mend your clothes, to tend the fire, and to warm your bed at night, but Arnaq…” he faltered. “It is a long and difficult journey. It is inconvenient. If you wish, Ross, I would be pleased if you would take Kooyoo.” Ross sensed the hesitation in the old man’s voice. It had not escaped Ross’s notice that Kooyoo was growing feeble. “You are most generous, my friend, but if the way is as clearly marked as you say, I will not need help.” “It is easy to get there, Ross, but once you reach the high ground, one valley looks much like another. Unless you have eyes to see, it is easy to get lost. It is unwise to take on such a journey alone.” “Is he a woman then, that he needs their company so?” jeered Saittuq. He had been standing a short distance away, with his back to them, pretending to attend to the gear on his sled, but Ross had noticed that Saittuq had coiled and uncoiled the same length of rope three times. Saittuq turned and took a step closer, still holding the coil of rope in his hands. “I have been to the place of the Inukshuk many times; it is an easy journey. A child could find his way.” “Perhaps you will come with me?” said Ross. Saittuq’s face creased in thought. He looked sly. “I need a saw like the qallunaat uses to cut snow blocks.” Seeing an opening, Ashevak rushed in. “This is good. Two will travel more safely than one. I am sure Ross can spare a steel saw. And Ross has a very accurate rifle. Two qamutiqs can bring back more meat.” Saittuq considered. “And a new kettle.” “Easily done. What do you say?” Ross nodded and, to his surprise, Saittuq agreed.
Ross was wary, but the price of a saw and a kettle seemed a small one, if he could make peace with this man and settle his own domestic strife. They agreed to set out early the next day—one couldn’t say, “at first light,” as it was light all the time now, though at midnight it became twilight, as the sun rolled just below the northern horizon. Ross rose early and packed his qamutiq carefully. Arnaq, despite her protruding belly, fussed about and kept bringing him things he didn’t need. Ross was of a meticulous cast of mind and planned his packing carefully. When he had his load lashed down under canvas, he was disturbed to see no movement outside Ashevak’s igloo. He stooped to enter and coughed politely before he pushed aside the sealskin curtain. Kooyoo sat up by the qulliq tending the wick and smiled at him when he entered. Ashevak and Saittuq were asleep under several layers of caribou hide. “When will we be ready to leave?” Ross asked her. “Soon,” she replied. Ross knew better than to show anger by now. “Soon” might mean two hours or two days. His business dealings with the Inuit had taught him that. In the beginning, he had tried to run his store along strict lines. It was part of his program to stay sane. He had tried to make it clear to the Inuit that the store would only be open at certain times, but they came knocking on his cabin door at any hour of the day or night. At first, he’d resisted, but they had broken him down. Arnaq had been responsible, as much as anyone else. “You have visitors,” she would scold. “You must make them welcome.” Ross would look bleary-eyed at his alarm clock. “Tell them to come back later.” “Lazybones,” she would snap. “You bring shame to our house.” And so Ross would find himself presiding over
a tea ceremony to expressionless faces at three o’clock in the morning. When they were replete, there would be the exchange of information and the telling of stories. Finally, the store would open, and the bargaining would begin. But Ross was impatient and irritable when he returned to his cabin that day. “Tell your father and Saittuq that I have left. Saittuq will be sure to catch up, as he has ten dogs to my five. Explain that I don’t wish to hold him up with my slow team.” Arnaq, in an entirely illogical turn of mind, began to be fearful and tried to dissuade Ross from his journey, perhaps feeling remorse for her harsh words earlier, but he was resolved. The dogs were whimpering in expectation. Ross cracked his whip and they leapt forward in their traces, shoulders hunched against the harness. Ross leaned on the grub box at the back of the sled, rocking it until the runners gave with a crack and the sled started to slide forward over the hard snow. Ross ran alongside the qamutiq as it gathered speed, his long stride easily matching its progress. His kamiks crunched the hard snow and the ice-covered runners hissed. Already, he could feel ice forming on his beard. Ross threw himself down on his sled, reclining on the canvas, with one elbow on the grub box at the back of the sled. His five dogs fanned out in front of him. Each dog had a name and a history. Every hunter knew his dogs well. Their lineage, their merits and demerits were the subject of much discussion and jesting. As Ross left the bay and made the turn up the fjord, he found his anger dissipating. The dogs were running well, and the trail was clearly marked by the passage of earlier sleds. And except for a few places where the fjord narrowed or turned, and where this constriction forced the ice up into lines of parallel pressure ridges, the ice was fairly smooth. Ross was able to relax on the sled, jumpvolume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
ing off only to stretch his muscles or to help push the sled over a patch of upthrust ice blocking the way. As he continued inland, the fjord grew narrower and the cliffs enclosing it, taller. It was cold in the shadow of the fjord, where the slanting sun never reached; but, on the mountaintops, the constant sunlight was working its magic. Snowmelt fell from the cliff tops in delicate skeins, striking the ice below and forming broadening pools of fresh water. The journey to the end of the fjord took two days. The first night, Ross camped in a small bay just off the fjord, building a small snow house on a narrow gravel beach. All that day and the next he never saw another living thing, save a lone raven perched on a crag in a beetling, slate-grey cliff, who croaked direly at the minute figures passing below. Then toward the end of the second day, Ross became aware of voices far-off, passed back and forth between the two cliff faces. Ross looked over his shoulder and saw another team in the distance, approaching, but infinitesimally small beneath the fjord walls and the narrow ribbon of blue sky. Ross whipped up his team. Hour by hour the following team grew closer and eventually drew abreast. It was Saittuq, and he passed Ross without so much as a wave. Ross’s team slowed down. Even Samson, his lead dog, was crushed by this humiliating defeat. When Ross reached the end of the fjord, Saittuq had already tethered his dogs and was standing in a circle of snow blocks that reached to his waist. The end of the fjord was a vast deep bowl—the earth’s mortar to the sky’s pestle, and everything between the two was crushed to shards of ice and shattered rock. Ross anchored his qamutiq a short distance from Saittuq’s camp, tethered his dogs on a line, checked their feet, and gave each a piece of frozen tom-cod to gnaw on. While he was caring for his dogs, Saittuq’s igloo had grown to shoulder height. Ross wondered if he was expected to join Saittuq or build his own shelter. What was the etiquette? He pulled an old rusty handsaw from his sled and walked over to Saittuq’s camp. Without a word he began cutting snow blocks from the
compacted drift of snow Saittuq had chosen and slid them up the dome to Saittuq’s waiting hands. The dome closed quickly over Saittuq’s head. Ross passed him the last block. Saittuq quickly whittled the keystone into shape and dropped it into place, completing the dome. With his sealskin mitts, Ross threw armfuls of loose snow over the igloo, rubbing the powder into the cracks between the blocks. From the inside, Saittuq cut a low arched doorway, and crawled out. He stood up, spread his massive arms and shook the snow off his furs. He grinned at Ross. “About time, qallunaat.” “You made good time, Saittuq,” Ross volunteered. Saittuq waved an enormous fur-clad paw in the direction of his team. “I have good dogs, the best.” Ross was willing to concede this. Saittuq was pleased. He pointed at Ross’s sled. “Bring your things. We will eat.” Ross dragged his sled over to Saittuq’s house, pulled off his sleeping robe, and opened his grub box. He stuffed a few things, like tea, sugar and canned meat, into a sack, and grabbed his paraffin stove. He dragged all of this through the low portal into the snow house. He stood up. His head brushed the ceiling, bringing a shower of snow down his collar. It was brighter inside than he had expected. Each glowing snow block stood out from its neighbour with a thin mortar of light. Saittuq had left a snow shelf at the back as a sleeping platform, and Ross threw his sleeping things here. He crawled back outside and filled a pan with snow. He came back in, primed the brass stove, and set the snow on top to melt. Saittuq was eyeing the can of corned beef warily. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. “This is not fit for men.” He pointed to a haunch of caribou lying on the floor. “Help yourself.” Ross carved a long shaving of pink flesh off the bone and chewed the strip reflectively. Each man kept his own counsel. When the water boiled, Ross added the tea. He poured Saittuq a cup, with a generous helping of sugar, and handed it to him in a
graniteware mug. Saittuq slipped off his mittens and accepted the steaming mug with a nod. “Do you have biscuits?” Saittuq asked. “Sure,” said Ross, and he crawled back out to his sled and returned with a package of soda crackers. He passed the crackers to Saittuq. Saittuq reached behind him and withdrew an old Player’s tobacco tin. He unscrewed the lid and dipped his knife in the tin. “Ungh! What is that smell?” Saittuq looked surprised. “Walrus.” He spread some greenish paste on a cracker and held it out. “Here. Eat. It is good.” Ross shook his head. Saittuq shrugged and stuffed the cracker in his mouth. In a few minutes, he had finished off the package of crackers, and he tossed the empty paper wrapper to the floor. He replaced the lid on the tin. Saittuq accepted more tea and cradled the warm mug in his hands. Peering through the steam, he seemed lost in his thoughts. For more than an hour no one spoke. Ross did not know what to say, and Saittuq seemed to be far away. Ross had seen this behaviour before. He had seen Kooyoo stare for hours into the flame of her qulliq without saying a word, seemingly alone in a crowded place. He supposed it was a necessary skill to learn, living in a confined space like an igloo. Saittuq shook himself to consciousness. “Come, Ross. Sleep now. Tomorrow we travel far.” Saittuq rose to his feet and began to spread out the caribou hides on the sleeping platform. The first layer went hair down, to insulate against the snow; the second layer, hair up, to keep him warm. Over this, he spread more robes. Ross started to unroll his sleeping robe, thick layers of wool and flannel in a canvas cover. “No, qallunaat,” said Saittuq, “We sleep together. It is warmer this way.” So Ross spent the night, under the caribou robes, his bare back pressed against Saittuq’s, wishing he were home again with Arnaq. Saittuq had no trouble sleeping. He snored and scratched and farted in complete oblivion. But Ross spent hours staring at the glowing dome of snow, unable to settle, unable to shake a growing sense of unease. When he finally fell asleep, it seemed only minutes before
Saittuq was shaking him awake, saying, “Time to go, lazybones. You can’t sleep all day. We have caribou to kill.” They loaded the sleds and harnessed the dogs. The sun was bright on the snow and Ross pulled on a pair of goggles with lenses of smoked glass. Saittuq was intrigued by the glasses and held out his hand. Ross pulled them off and handed them to Saittuq, who tried them on. He smiled and peered all around. “These goggles are good. Better than mine.” “Yes,” remarked Ross. After a few minutes, he cleared his throat. “Can I have them back?” Saittuq handed them back reluctantly, his gaze lingering on the remarkable goggles, as he slowly passed them over. He then pulled on his own goggles, traditional ones, carved of whale bone, with thin slits to protect his eyes from the glare off the snow. Saittuq whipped up his team. “Follow me,
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
qallunaat. Try to keep up.” They traveled down to the shore and across the bay to the mouth of a frozen river. Saittuq followed the river’s twisting course through the coastal hills that barred their path to the interior. They passed into a narrow canyon and began to climb on wildly tilting planes of green ice. It was exhilarating and beautiful. At one point, Ross noticed a boulder, of perhaps a ton or more, frozen, suspended, in the ice beneath his feet. How was that possible? he wondered. Had the river frozen so quickly that the rock was trapped in the ice as it fell? Everything around him—earth, water, sky, even time—seemed frozen, suspended, too. He followed Saittuq under the glistening walls of fractured rock, muscling his sled up the frozen waterfalls. When they were through the canyon, Saittuq led them up a steep curving trail, away from the river. They traveled across hills and frozen lakes, through passes and immense valleys. It was rug-
ged country and hard traveling. Ross began to notice the Inukshuk on the hills, in a line, roughly parallel to the path they were following. If it weren’t for the evidence of these stone figures, Ross thought, we might be the first people to pass this way. Ashevak had been right. To the untrained eye, every vista looked more or less the same— more broad valleys, more frozen lakes, more rock strewn hills. Ross was glad he had come with Saittuq and worked hard not to be left behind. They crossed another low pass and entered a huge valley—a frozen lake—and drove their teams to a sugar loaf island in the middle, ascended it, and scanned the immense horizon. Nothing. Nothing but wind scouring the barren hills. “We will camp here,” announced Saittuq. “Tomorrow, we will travel there,” he pointed to the far side of the lake and to a low saddle in the surrounding hills, “and see what we will find.”
CONGRATULATIONS On behalf of Council and the residents of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, I would like to congratulate all those involved in getting NorthWord published. +VKUVTWN[HCPVCUVKEVQUGGVJCV9QQF$WHHCNQoUƂTUVNKVGTCT[ magazine is available for residents to read and enjoy. The Municipality is abundant with talent from local writers and VJKUKUVJGRGTHGEVCXGPWGHQTVJGOVQUJQYECUGVJGKTƂPest qualities. I look forward to reading the product our residents put on display in this fashion.
Not only will NorthWord show off our talented writers, but the magazine is also an excellent way to promote literacy and education in Wood Buffalo. I wish NorthWord magazine all the best in its future and look forward to reading many upcoming issues.
Melissa Blake - MAYOR
bear bell Jennifer Quist
t rolled out of the crumpled gift shop bag, rattling its tin voice into the softness of her lap.
He stood beaming down over her shoulder with me under his arm. I ate a hardtack airline cookie and my mother scowled at the gift my father had brought her from his convention in a mountain resort town. “That’s more like it, eh?” he was bawling, boasting at her, “I’d like to see you find a use for that in the kitchen.” We all recognized the reference to his last post-convention offering, the Rocky Mountain Cook Book that made her cry right in front of all of us. “Oh sure, it’s very nice. And I’m sure all the ladies from the city offices thought it was right charming that you’ve got a little wife holed up in the north scared to death of the bears. A great moment in feminism, that’s what it is.” “Should have got you the soup ladle with a beaver on the handle.” “What is this thing?” My sister had reached into Mum’s lap and fingered the chrome pate of the over-sized jingle bell sewn onto a blue nylon strap embroidered with little red maple leaves. “A bear bell.” Mum was standing up, taking the bell with her. “It’s supposed to ring out in the woods and warn bears something’s coming so they can get scared and run away.” She held the bell up to his face and rang it as hard as she could. “Listen to that. I don’t know whether to run away screaming or start singing a Christmas song. Honestly, it’s not much better than superstition.” She was retreating, jingling away from us down the long hall of our half million dollar, fully loaded mobile home. “Useless.” Dad dropped down in her armchair and scrubbed his face with his hands. “I think it’s a nice present,” I told him.
It was spring again, months since he’d stood behind her in the kitchen holding open one of her old university textbooks – one of the really big ones we liked to use for writing desks. “Ursaphobe,” he’d announced. “Who’s that sound like, my love?” he asked me. She’d sighed so loudly I could hear the breath leave her over the sound of the pasta boiling on the stove. She’d gripped the edge of the sink with both hands and glared out the window to where the aspen and spruce trees marked the end of our boomtown civilization, rolling green and ragged past the horizon, almost unbroken all the way to the Arctic. I knew Dad wanted me to say his fancy Latin word sounded like Mum but I couldn’t say why. “Tell you what’s crazy,” she’d begun before I had to answer him. “Prancing around in the woods with your kids like there’s nothing out there liable to kill and eat you. That is delusional.” He’d been making some sort of protest against prancing as the bedroom door closed behind her. I stirred the steaming noodles and my sister rolled under the dinner table. Ever since a snowmobiler came soaring over a berm, squashing a dog dead, and breaking both the legs of the man on the other end of the leash, we weren’t allowed to play on the fire break behind the trailers anymore – the cleared band of land where the city had graded the soil and seeded it with grass before abandoning it to nettles and lamb’s quarter. But the strip of trampled lawn alongside our trailer was too small for much play and streets lined with diesel pickup trucks were no place for nearly invisible children. Sometimes we’d stand on the curb and wave at the huge commuter buses threading the needle’s eye of our trailer park streets, trying to get the drivers to blow their air horns while the shift workers cursed and turned in their beds. But Mum didn’t really like us doing that either.
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
I risked arguing we’d be safe from the quad riders and dirt bikers in the aspen trees on the other side of the fire break. “We could take the bear bell with us.” I knew it was stupid but I said it anyway. She hummed a scoff at me. “That’s just great. And I suppose you could always go play in the muskeg ‘til it swallowed you up too.” She meant the dark woods, the place where the sunny aspens gave way to black spruces and twiggy armed Labrador tea floating on a soggy cloud of sphagnum moss. Dad had walked us over there last summer, just so when we move Back Home again we’ll be able to say we’ve seen real muskeg. He’d twisted the head off the kitchen broom and brought the long white broomstick with us. We couldn’t go very far into the muskeg woods. Mosquitoes rose out of the moss like a tiny unholy army of the undead, their proboscises gored with our blood, to drive us back. Great white welts swelled on my arms and neck from the bites. “Why do their ticks look so bad?” he called out to Mum where she stood on the rim of the fire break. “No one in my family flares up like that for a little bug.” She laughed at him but she seemed anxious as ever, holding my sister’s hand, squinting into the spruces from the rough clay edge of the fire break. I wanted to see her calm in the muskeg woods. Everyone knows big animals—bears, moose, deer— they hate muskeg. They sink into it, crash through the moss canopy with their thin legs, spooked in some eerie animal way by their ancestors’ memories of its hunger for them. We saw some pictures on the Internet of whole bull dozers almost completely submerged in muskeg bogs. “Those are faked,” Dad told us. “Look, the shadows are all wrong.” On the muskeg, Dad had walked into the marsh through the whirring haze of mosquitoes and black flies. The skeletons of hundreds of fallen spruce trees cracked under his feet, unseen beneath the moss. I shifted on the spot where I stood as my weight wrung the clear, cold groundwater out of the muskeg and into the canvas of my shoes.
How long could I stand in one place here before the water rose up and up, and the moss gathered around me, pulling me into some dark northern heart, making me into a bog-girl, withered and tanned and perfectly preserved, right down to my the Corn Pops in my gut? “Keep moving,” he called back to us. “It’s fine as long as you keep moving.” “Where ya got to?” Mum sang out after him. “Here,” he answered, and I saw the back of his red-checked shirt, radiant between the black spruces. They weren’t tall trees. They don’t store much water in their own hoary trunks but trust the wet muskeg coiled around their roots will always nourish them from the outside. Maybe there’s some kind of evolutionary brilliance to it – that is, until forest fire season comes. Dad said there are some black spruces on the islands in the Athabasca River delta growing safely where the forest fires can’t hop across the water. They say those trees are maybe hundreds of years old and tall as smoke stacks. He bent down to drive Mum’s white broomstick handle into the centre of a low spot where a puddle of water stood on the moss. He bore down on it, leaning against the long stick like it was a lever on a great machine, snapping through strata of buried twigs and branches. “Will you look at that,” he was calling again, crashing back into Mum’s view, waving the broomstick at us. Most of it was wet with clear water but its bottom quarter was coated in thick, tarry peat. “Very nice,” Mum was muttering, looking away from him, scanning the length of the fire break. “So what’ll it be, Missus? The bears, the break, or the bog?” I pulled the broomstick toward my face, raised its black end to my nose, and sniff as hard as I could. “Smells like a garden,” I said. She snatched it out of my hands. “That’s what it’s not.” Soon after the gift of the bear bell, Mum took a job, answering phones at a law office downtown. She wore a ladies’ suit jacket and grew her fingernails into shiny pink claws.
“There’s no point in me going back to work if it’s just to pay for the childcare for these two,” she told Dad. “You don’t need babysitting, do ya love?” he asked me. “You gets right off the school bus with your sister, come straight home, lock the door, and Mum will be home before you’re even sick of watching cartoons.” They gave me a dingy gold-coloured key to wear on a shoelace tied around my neck. “Keep it tucked in here,” Mum said, dropping the key inside my t-shirt. “Don’t be telling everyone you’re on your own after school.” Her eyes were wide and shadowy. “God help me.” Mum and Dad were both at work on the warmest day we’d had all spring—sunny, and windy enough for us to be able to hear the aspen leaves crinkling like wrapping paper at a birthday party on the other side of the fire break. All at once there I was, under the trees in the bears’ aspen woods with my little sister and the tinkling silver orb I’d stolen from the shelf at the top of my mum’s closet. In the woods there were tire tracks all through the hardened mud trails, a beaver dam as high as my head, the biggest smashed wasps’ nest I’ve ever seen, a rusted old snowmobile chassis, and no sign of any bears. The neighbour lady saw us coming back to our yard before we’d reached the open gate. She stood on the porch outside her trailer door, calling to us over the fence, smoking into the wind which, as we all know, is healthier. “There you are,” she drawled in her Alberta accent, crushing the butt of a cigarette into a coffee can. “Looks like you’ve really given your mom a scare.” “She’s back?” I felt my blood turn to saline. “Not anymore. She came in, ran through the
trailer yelling for you, and then took off out the door and out the gate. I think someone’s in trouble.” “Running? In her work shoes?” The neighbour lady shrugged. “I didn’t get a good look. But she headed out that way.” She pointed toward the muskeg woods. I ran, careening over the tender spring weeds on the fire break, away from the bears’ woods in the west toward to muskeg. My sister came along behind me, running and tangling our high girl voices together in a shrill alarm. The neighbour lady might have been calling something after us but neither of us turned back. There on the clay ground was one black, high-heeled shoe, and then another. I screamed, clambering onto the spongy green landscape before me. “Mum!” A white face turned to look out through the trees. But I saw her first as she stood on moss, barefoot but for her black panty hose, her back bent over the white broomstick as she forced it down into the peat layer, over and over, sounding the depths – searching for the bog-girls far, far below. When she saw me she yanked the broomstick out of the muskeg and threw it down. She staggered toward me on the soft ground, windmilling her arms until the Velcro ends of the bear bell’s strap were tearing apart around my wrist. Maybe she was falling or maybe she was leaning back on purpose, like a baseball pitcher. The bear bell was rolling off the tips of her fingers, hurtling away from me, spinning over the low tops of the scraggly spruces, its arc falling, curving back into the bog. I heard the bear bell’s inner ball clink against its shell somewhere unseen, farther into the muskeg woods than any of us would ever be able to penetrate ourselves.
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
first friend in the hospital
second friend in the same hospital
to keep the cells walk small sit tight curl on a couch do not lift more than a sugar bag don’t push a vacuum, carts don’t sit in tubs with hotter than lukewarm don’t go near stress don’t cry sleep eat well breathe pray and don’t think about the cells you so hope will multiply, sprout attach to a uterine wall, emerge such beauty in nine months amid grateful tears
to eliminate the cells walk small sit tight curl on a bed do not lift, push, carry, cry, strain try to sleep through the fearsome dark eat something breathe pray and don’t think about the cells multiplying attaching to glands muscle nerve detaching, spinning through to liver breasts think of the radiation you so hope will pinch, twist, destroy such evil entirely within a year amid grateful tears
i think we stayed a long time this way
open my eyes, heavy from sleep that holds to me like a bushel of barley pushing down on my lids.
It is an effort to wake up, so much work. It wasn’t always this way. Back on the farm we got up with the sun, no alarm clocks, nothing. The fire in the stove blown out and the sun poking over the iceglazed trees was enough to get me moving. Of course in those days I’d wake up needing to pee like a racehorse and with the piss pot full and frozen from the night it was a quick and cold dash to the outhouse. Damn, that was 70 years ago and I still remember the icy wind blowing through those cracks in the walls, stabbing at my privates. I’d take that over what I have now, any day. I wake up and my overwhelming thought is “what’s the point?” My eyes dart around the room looking for clues to remind me of why I should bother waking up at all. I know there’s a reason. A blank wall, a curtain just beyond my reach, a light recessed into the ceiling, a door, closed. I swing my head left, as much as it will let me. My pillow, stained from something, probably me I’m guessing. A nightstand with a light blue plastic jug and a…that’s it, I’m thirsty. I knew there was something. I’m kind of hungry too. We had a hand pump in the summer kitchen, a luxury at the time, so getting the coffee started wasn’t too bad. When it was really cold getting that pump moving sometimes meant grabbing a couple of coal-oil lanterns and warming it up. I’d get the fire going in the stove, put on the kettle, black, caked in a charcoal blanket, and the next thing you knew gritty coffee would be served up hot and steaming. It was strong, probably could peel paint, with grounds floating near the top, but nothing ever tasted so good, then or since. The
swill they give me now pales in comparison. Of course, the fact that I’ve woken up and figured out that I’m thirsty and hungry doesn’t mean much. It’s been a long time since I was able sit up and grab that red nurse’s call button to place my order. All I can do now is wait, and hope that someone comes before I fall back to sleep. I think there’s a clock in the room but if my memory serves me correctly, it is on the wall above my head, way beyond my current line of sight. So, depending on what time it really is, food and drink could be minutes or hours away. This is my life, or what’s left of it. The door opens and in walks someone wearing a bright blue winter coat, toque and mittens in hand, careful, slow. Visitors seem to come around every couple of days, strangers one moment, the next a memory that clicks into place, recognition. This person is talking and I’m hearing, but the words are not making sense. All I can think about is how thirsty I am and figuring out who this is about the least important thing at the moment. “Juice,” I hear myself mumble. “Juice?” he asks. I nod my head ever so slightly. He picks up the light blue jug and pores some into the light blue mug that was hidden behind it, brings it my lips and I manage to get some of it into my mouth. Sweet. Moist. Good. We would get up in the early morning dark in the fall, needing to spend us much time in the field as was physically possible, a race against October’s frost and the Almanac’s call for a late season stretch of rain. When the ladies arrived with lunch we would stretch out the blankets, grab a piece of shade up against the thresher, eat and drink till our stomachs were full then close our eyes for a quick and deep sleep before working straight through till dark. I think those were some of the best meals of my life.
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
Eating has taken on a different form in my old age. My dentures have been retired, no longer fitting my withered gums. They feed me now like they fed me then, as a baby, by the spoonful. But when your whole purpose for waking up is to tackle a thirst or answer a pang, a serving of pudding or bit of chocolate tastes pretty damn good. This visitor is starting to look familiar to me. My mind works better once my cravings have been somewhat satisfied. It’s not my son Charlie, although there is a resemblance. It’s not Lloyd, it’s not…wait a minute, I know who it is now. It’s Russell. Russell, Charlie’s son. He’s older. He took me out to the farm for the last time, before I ended up here, him and his new wife. It was a hot summer day and we walked around the Olson yard, and the house built by Uncle Henry when I was a kid. Long since abandoned with bird poop and mouse droppings everywhere, it was still in remarkably good shape. They built things to last back then. Like me.
They say I am 98, although the years run together and I’m not sure what 98 means anymore. My grandson is looking at me and I’m looking at him. I think we stay a long time this way. I feel a tear forming and falling, as I recall that final trip to the farm and how wish I could have stayed there. It would have been nice to have fallen asleep on a blanket in the shade of the combine one final time. “I love you Grandpa,” he said as he drifted out of the room and I drifted off to sleep.
Alex Thomas passed away 37 days later, the day after his 99th birthday. Family and friends gathered on an abnormally warm day in February to pay their last respects. Grandpa appeared in my dream the other night, sitting on the sofa. He looked at me. I looked at him. I think we stayed a long time this way.
north: our emotional landscape
was drawn north but in or-
der to write about it, I had to go there. I got in the car and
drove, hoping to find what it
was I was looking for.
Playing songs by Canadians about the Canadian landscape, I thought I was going to find what I was missing, that deep well of inspiration. I realized that though I was going north, there wasn’t really a way of knowing when I had arrived. That someone living south of me could go north and end up where I had started. I felt like turning around. However, as I drove, I slowly started to feel different. The trees were suddenly dressed for winter, wearing their clean white coats of snow. The road, down to a single winding lane, no longer cut through the landscape but instead had to negotiate around it. I arrived at a lake, just about to freeze and surrounded by harsh, snow-covered rocks. There was an almost full moon shining down, creating sparkles in the frozen life around me. Looking out across the lake I finally understood what I was writing about. There exists a something inside of us, as Canadians, that emotionally or physically draws us north. It’s not a place to us, it’s an idea, its beauty and its danger. There is something about the north that fascinates us and brings us together as Canadians. Margaret Atwood writes “the ‘north’ is thought of as a place, but it’s a place with shifting bound-
aries. It’s also a state of mind. It can mean ‘wilderness’ or ‘frontier.’ But we know – or think we know – what sorts of things go on there.” North as a geographic term, is a direction, not a location; for it to exist it must be connected to its binary, south. Most Canadians live south but look north. This state of affairs has been going on since before Confederation. One of Canada’s founding myths is the Franklin Expedition, a failed attempt at charting the elusive Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Margaret Atwood, in her book The Malevolent North writes that the Franklin story exists as a “haunting presence”. Glenn Gould, Canadian pianist and creator of the sound piece “The Idea of North” wrote, “Something really does happen to most people who go into the north – they become at least aware of the creative opportunity which the physical fact of the country represents”. Another Canadian musician, Stan Rogers, sang about Franklin in his song, “Northwest Passage”:“ah for just one time, I would take the Northwest Passage / to find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea / tracing one warm line through a land so wild and savage / and make a northwest passage to the sea”. Another work that touches on the allure and mystique of the Franklin Expedition is Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Terror and Erubus” named after Franklin’s boats. In the play, MacEwan writes, “I can almost suppose you did not die, but are somewhere walking between the icons of ice”. Certainly, this confirms Atwood’s idea of Franklin’s haunting influence. Interestingly, the Franklin expedition was a volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
British expedition. This ties our literature to our colonial past, perhaps as a protection from tying it to our southern binary, the United States. If, as Margaret Atwood writes, the north can serve as both wilderness and frontier, then perhaps our North serves us as the West does the United States. American drama is filled with the idea of starting over in the West, finding a new start on the frontier where no one has a history. So if Canadians want their own identity, than they must look to what is uniquely theirs, the north. That is why I would argue we live south but look north, because to do so is to be Canadian. So just what is north? Robert W. Service wrote “The Land God Forgot,” a poem about the north. It includes the verses: “O outcast land! O leper land! / let the lone wolf-cry express the hate insensate of thy hand / thy heart’s abysmal loneliness.”
Service called the north “the Great Alone: the icesheathed mountains, reflecting the soft blaze of the Aurora . . . loneliness”. Sherill Grace, Professor of Drama at UBC, calls this description part of a “combination of alone-ness in the North, ecstasy, communion with nature, and fear . . . commonplace in Canadian culture and the arts for at least 150 years”. So the question becomes, if north is everywhere and has been for so long, just what defines our use of north? My suggestion would be winter, the season of the north. Winter allows the land to start again each year. Like the West in the United States, the north gives us a fresh start. We are drawn to it, it inspires us, and ultimately, through our exposure to it, it claims us. Like Franklin, we are forever framed by the north, for the north always triumphs.
the night i killed the roses Kiran Malik-Khan
Forty-one weeks into this marriage – our first fight left icicles in my veins Arctic winds in my heart Your words sank me in a barren field of snow where dreams lie buried where thoughts get lost before being found Twelve garnet roses Your attempt at making up I touched them and there was no solace Sometimes flowers Don’t make for good apologies As I looked at the garnet emblems of beauty I knew without hesitation, disposing of them I’d remember this night forever as The night I killed the roses!
believe that most writers are also avid readers. For such readers nothing approaches the anticipatory pleasure of opening a new book.
Questions abound. What will the story or argument be? Will it ‘grab’ me, and how? What emotions will be stirred up, what insights presented? Will I be delighted, enlightened, disturbed, saddened, shocked, enraged, confused, or simply bored? Will I be unable to put the book down, or will I struggle to finish it? And along with all these questions comes perhaps the most intriguing one: will this be a book I will want to read again? The pleasures of re-reading are peculiar. There can be no suspense. The story is familiar, the conclusion foregone, the attendant emotions already experienced. Yet somehow an intense excitement about what has not yet been experienced is replaced by a deeper, even richer excitement at rediscovering the familiar. Some re-readings are essentially ritualistic. Almost every year, sometime between December 22 and December 26, I sit down with Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, usually completing it in one session. The experience is like welcoming a much-loved, if brilliant and eccentric, older relative back into my home. There is almost nothing that is ‘new’ in the experience; I can quote whole sentences, almost whole paragraphs. But as the images and feelings pour out from the pages with Dickensian abundance, every detail of them is remembered and welcomed: the cold, the light, the music, the abundance of food and drink, the voices of the poor in pocket but rich in spirit, the dooming spectral hand of the Ghost of the Future. And along with the images from the page flood in a host of memories of my own Christmases Past, good and bad. I recall Christmases with my family as a child, Christmases with my own family as a husband and father, I greet friends and relatives close at hand, missed over the years, or gone from this world. Dickens’ tale of redemption is entwined with my own story. I come away from this Christmas reading ritual with my faith in basic human goodness fully, if temporarily, renewed.
Some re-readings are in response to a particular emotional longing. Such is my re-approach to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, every three or four years. Nothing specific triggers my need to visit Middle Earth. Yet at a particular moment I recognize that cynicism, or frustration, or depression has coloured my view of myself or my world. I have become ‘stuck’ in the bleakly mundane. Tolkien’s heroes, great and small, brave, frightened, determined, flawed and all too ‘human’, touched by magic and making it, wise, and sorrowful in their wisdom, always work to un-stick me. They teach me again that greatness can be aspired to on every step of any path. Sometimes, and perhaps most importantly, a re-reading combines disappointment with clear insight into the paths taken by the reader. A book read years before is rediscovered. The immense sense of delight it created is almost instantly remembered. The book is opened eagerly in anticipation of the exact same delights. Yet, as the pages are turned, nothing happens. The words seem, dull, uninspired, trite or excessive. The style grates on the inner ear, the story unfolds clumsily, the plot seems trivial or contrived. The magic is gone. How? Why? The answer is significant, if usually tinged with sadness. The book is the same; you are not. That part of you the book spoke to then has changed, grown, or disappeared. The needs the author met years ago are not your needs now. The experience is like meeting and old school ‘friend’ years after your lives diverged. You sit and talk, or try to. You become uncomfortable, eager for the meeting to end. Finally you part, touched by the realization that the flow of two lives has taken away almost everything you had in common. There is only a “Remember when?” whose memory has no more resonance. Every moving experience of reader encountering book is specific to a moment in the life of the reader. Those experiences are both signposts and time-posts marking the reader’s longer journey. Whether the experience is fulfilling or disappointing, re-reading reminds the reader how far he has come, how he got there, and what the next steps might be. It is never ‘wasted’ time.
volume 1, issue 2
northword: A Literary Journal of Canada’s North
contributors kitty cochrane has lived in Fort McMurray for twenty years. Her first serious work was in Grade 6 when she wrote a poem about balloons escaping over the city sky. The teacher put it up on the bulletin board. She has since then continued to publish poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and creative non-fiction. She’s also a songwriter and has published two indie recordings. ken haigh’s memoir of life as a teacher in eastern Bhutan, Under the Holy Lake, was published by the University of Alberta Press in 2008. He worked as a teacher in the eastern Arctic in 1991–92 and his story is the penultimate chapter in a novel under construction called Ultima Thule. jeff hoffman is a Fort McMurray-based playwright, poet, author and filmmaker. Despite his young age, Jeff has had a number of his plays produced and various pieces published and has won a number of awards. A human rights activist, Jeff is a big believer in the power of literature and the part it plays in the shaping of the human conscience. nick hutcheson grew up in the heart of downtown Toronto but has happily traded his knowledge of subway stations and navigation by way of skyscraper for animal themed streets and mountain peaks in Banff, Alberta. Combining his love of the outdoors with his interest in the arts, Nick has a work/study position in writing and publishing at The Banff Centre. When not at work Nick enjoys live music and theatre, hockey, cross country skiing, and all things North. kiran malik-khan is a poet, writer and free-lance journalist. She has lived in Fort McMurray for almost nine years, and free-lances for the Saturday Today for over seven years now. Kiran would like to thank her family for their support, especially her husband, Mo Khan for being her rock. dave martin is a parent, teacher, and a performing singer/songwriter who lives, works and plays in Fort McMurray. Born in England, Dave has lived in Northern Alberta for almost three decades. ‘Welcome to our Home’ was inspired by a homeless couple who lived by the Clearwater River.
gordon mceachern, age 39, is a full-time silkscreen artist, writer and amateur military historian. He resides with his wife Lauren in Fort McMurray, Alberta. keltie jean paul has lived most of her adult life in Northern Alberta. A self-described “found-time writer”, she crafts short stories that explore legend and legacy. Her environment provides the basis of stories that evolve into snapshots of lives and experiences in rural and urban communities. She and her husband live in Fort McMurray, Alberta. jennifer quist is a freelance writer, researcher, and alumnus of the Harpe Heights Mobile Home Community. Few things have inspired her to write more creative non-fiction, poetry, and huffy letters-to-the-editor than Fort McMurray and the north. david sabine is an avid reader and writer of non-fiction but enjoys the infrequent opportunity to delve into creative prose. He has officially published in the Canadian Band Journal, DevPapers.com, and now NorthWord; but on topics ranging from the science of music, the art of math, synthetic neurology, semantics, and philosophy, he has published thousands of pieces throughout the Internet starting in 1993 with his own web log at DaveSabine.com. margaret sonnenberg has lived in Fort McMurray for 20 years, enjoying the experience of the boreal forest and its waterways. In 2008 Margaret returned to painting after nearly 30 years and has since enjoyed finding compositions of nature to capture in paint. stephanie werner is a poet, teacher, writer, and mother of two who is formerly of Montreal, Quebec; Three Hills, Alberta; and Fort McMurray, Alberta; in that order. Currently, she lives in St Albert, Alberta. She is not a fan of the cold, and has felt her eyeballs freeze at minus fifty Celsius.
FRANKENSTEIN still resonates with readers
IND 100: THE ANATOMY OF FRANKENSTEIN
nearly two centuries after its inception.
A vividly captivating tale which horrifies
6:30 – 9:30 pm
and engrosses the reader all at once,
Starts January 7, 2010
FRANKENSTEIN plays on our every emotion.
Ends April 22, 2010
The underlying themes of Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN have many applications, not merely in the novel, but in society as well.
Discover FRANKENSTEIN for yourself.
But are they timeless? Scrutinize
College offers The Anatomy of Frankenstein this winter. Each week, instructors from the areas of Philosophy, Chemistry, Biology, Film Studies, English, Psychology, Education, Music, Art, Drama and more, leave no detail unexamined.
CALL 780-791-4801 TO REGISTER.
volume 1, issue 2